Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 23, 2008

And I Feel Better… Now

This morning, I wrote my first ever letter to a member of my Capitol Hill delegation. Ah, can’t say it’s all that good … it wasn’t meant to be.. I mean, what do you expect in 10 minutes? And yes, I tried to put it into words a Democrat might understand (I’m in a one-party state here) without too much blushing. And yes, I do genuinely feel this is important enough to get off my couch and spend a minute or two wrestling with before my industry is entirely restructured into oblivion.. and if I may, FWIW, my end of the business had no direct or indirect role in this… we’re just too old fashioned, conservative, slow and the like to go off into this new-fangled black box self-destruction. But that’s just me.  We claim little virtue in this… even if we do from time to time help a few folks stay as clear as one can of these disasters… it’s too small to make a difference. And responsibility for devolution of the present sort is not just system wide… but hard to not to lay at all our feet…. especially mine.

So since the usual reward is that when they back up the dumpster like they’re doing now, anything nearby that looks like a roach, gets crushed, stamped and sent to the same dump or laid out for the fumigator… I’m prepared. I’ve already bought the gas station attendant’s jacket with “Thickheaded” on the right side so I can begin my new career pumping gas. This is what it is. Might be a little belt tightening given the prevalence of self-service pumps… but I can squeegee, too. As David Allan Greer would say, “Wanna sammich with that?”

Does this matter? No. My expectations are realistically low. But it sure makes me feel better 🙂 and that’s a start to silencing some things ’round here, and that’s good. No, for the record, I am not a socialist or retrograde anti-capitalist of some sort. I’m an entrepreneur and a capitalist… but it is an amoral system that needs rules to operate within.

And yes, I remain a political agnostic, though a technical Democrat (when the election’s over in the primary, you have to do something). But sometimes, we gotta play a role if we want the system to work better than it does, and it seems like the garden path down which we’ve trod these past 20 years or so… well.. might be worth a harder look. And no, I’m not expecting good Orthodox folks to care all that much about this… unless of course you vote, bank, have a 401K or whatever and hope to retire, send a kid to college or find a different job one day. Come see me at the Exxon!

Yes, sometimes, the world can get remade a little too fast for comfort… or at least seem so… and last I checked, the folks in charge of it this go-round aren’t exactly the ones our good Church suggests were originally or even subsequently appointed the task.

In the end, my point is that sometimes we can see these folks need our help. Their instincts may even be right from time to time..  but sometimes they may be pressured enormously to do otherwise. Without either our material input, or our voices, they can readily end up doing something against their better judgment. Ya’ think? So I suggest that if you feel strongly, you contact your elected representatives as well to express your opinion. Maybe even if you look over my drivel you’ll realize you need to quickly counter with your own. Five points for the best doggerel limerick for this crisis!  But seriously, it’s a wide world, and the give-and-take makes it work better… so have at it.

I wish to urge voting for reform of the banking and securities industries WITHOUT adding to the concentration of the industry into fewer and fewer hands.

Furthering concentration only makes the problems of “too big to fail” larger.

Since we ALWAYS end up bailing folks out, the “larger is better” approach should have run its course into bankruptcy… and not become the “hidden” reward of a bailout. I understand the emergency requires emergency measures. But restructuring the industry should also include time to consider anti-trust as well as the premise that national banking that was supposed to strengthen our system and provide additional services to local families and businesses instead has provided neither.

Every merger of the last 20 years premised on “service” let go people in the process. By any objective measure, service is not the interest… but there has been no cross-check on this. By definition, this has reduced services and made individuals into nameless, faceless “accounts” served by nameless, faceless folks in large, increasingly remote institutions. Bankruptcy becomes thinkable for both whenever ties are broken in this way. Credit quality has always relied on character and faith… and this disaster demonstrates that both have been lost.

Real people deserve real service by institutions comprised of flesh and blood people from their area.

With 30 years of my career in allied services… I find it hard to watch the freight train continuing to roll over the interests of the common man. CEO compensation isn’t the issue so much – although compensation more generally in terms of pay, fees, and interest rates could fairly be considered so.

No the primary matter is that we have to fix the industry to be competitive – so we won’t just lose it to London, but we also need to assure ourselves that these folks provide the services they were granted powers for in the first place, and reduce the consequences of mistakes when they happen. They will happen again like clockwork no matter how well we adjust.

Suggest that we don’t need new rules and regulations – though we need appropriate regulation (suggest contacting the Levy Institute of Bard College) – nearly as much as we need to enforce the regulations we have and fund the authorities responsible so that we can. And regulation needs to be freed from the lobbying interests of well-meaning constituent service legislators whose zest for campaign funds unfortunately impede the public interest. In all fairness, the current system’s complexity makes it very hard for the unschooled to understand what they are being asked to facilitate, its impact in terms of who it helps and who it hurts, and often the pressing media costs of elections have unbalanced the usual concerns for the character of those asking. The parts of our current mess are unfortunately broad, related… and all in dire need of redress.

But bottom line, our collective materialism, greed and anointing of the dollar as the one and only measure of any and all value, we have distorted many things vital to the sort of capitalism that we treasure… and all bear responsibility to fix the system. Rules are needed… rules we are willing and able to enforce.

Allowing ONLY the market to determine what’s right and wrong, what needs fixing and what doesn’t is simply a road to oligarchy I think we want to get off. The people need a voice…. even as FDR said… the capitalists must be saved from themselves. Further concentration of financial power through emergency or other measures WITHOUT a plan to subsequently unwind it seems a move which is 100% against the public interest… as well as the longer term interests of competitive capital markets.

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